Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Aretha Franklin: Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics [RCA, 2014]
At 72 her voice has lost range and clarity, so if athleticism is your thing, maybe you'd better go buy that Whitney's greatest live excrescence I couldn't get past track six of. With Aretha I always thought vocal quality trumped vocal ability--the latter merely extraordinary, the former unfathomable. At present, the voice has taken on a squall I identify with Bobby Bland and hear in Mahalia Jackson too--a phlegmy, self-possessed, powerful, interesting old person's voice. The interpretations aren't definitive--Etta James still owns "At Last," there are better "Teach Me Tonight"s, and although Aretha's "Nothing Compares 2 U" is her own, Sinead's remains not only definitive but stranger and better. And although I get how jealous she is of Barbra Streisand and Ms. Houston, I still don't ever want to hear "People" or "I'm Every Woman" again. Yet somehow, when I let my guard down, I catch myself chuckling over how she floats and rocks and skirls and squalls through each of them. And I hope neither Gloria Gaynor nor Adele Adkins is too much of a diva not to be tickled by "Rolling in the Deep" and "I Will Survive," regal interpolations and all. A-